Feeds

Chaos feared after Unix time-zone database is nuked

Developer sued for copyright infringement

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

The internet's authoritative source for time-zone data has been shut down after the volunteer programmer who maintained it was sued for copyright infringement by a maker of astrology software.

David Olson, custodian of the Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time Database, said on Thursday he was retiring the FTP server he's long maintained. Also known as the Olson database, it's the official reference Unix machines use to set clocks to local time and is used by countless websites and applications to reconcile time differences across the world.

“A civil suit was filed on September 30 in federal court in Boston,” Olson wrote in the message posted to the mailing list for the FTP site. “I'm a defendant; the case involves the time zone database.” He then permanently disbanded the list. Olson wasn't immediately available to comment for this article.

The suit was filed in federal court last week by Astrolabe, a Brewster, Massachusetts-based maker of astrology-related software. It claimed the database Olson has maintained as public service for years unlawfully included data contained in The ACS Atlas, which Astrolabe sells for commercial profit.

“In connection with his unlawful publication of some and/or any portion of the works, defendant Olson has wrongly and unlawfully asserted that this information and/or data is 'in the public domain,' in violation of protections afforded by federal copyright laws,” Astrolabe attorneys alleged.

Indeed, Olson's database includes comments that credit The American Atlas from ACS Publications as the source for some of the historical data it contains. The FTP database is the principal source for time-zone data, mapping the the zones of a given geography on a given date. The Unix operating system, Java-based applications, and untold numbers of websites rely on it to determine what time it is or was in a certain location. The service was free.

“The impact of this is severe for anyone that uses it – whether via Java, Unix or some other means,” Java developer Stephen Colebourne blogged on Thursday. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to the database maintainers who have worked on this for many, many years at zero cost to the industry and for zero financial gain.”

Astrolabe's complaint (PDF) lodged similar allegations against University of California at Los Angeles professor Paul Eggert, who also includes historical information taken from the The ACS Atlas in separate time-zone resource. At time of writing, there was no indication it had been taken down. It's unclear if the contents on his site will fill the void created when Olson shuttered his FTP server. Eggert didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Reading Astrolabe's complaint, it's hard to gauge its chances of success. It doesn't say whether the company holds a registered copyright for the database or even an application for it. And it's not clear if the company is claiming copyright on the historical data, the compilation of the data, or on software that was used to access the data.

“There's a bunch of facts we can't answer from the face of the complaint,” said Eric Goldman, an associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. “A good complaint would answer these questions.”

But even if the lawsuit ultimately fails, it could take years and tens of thousands of dollars for Olson and Eggert to prevail. In the meantime, the internet needs a way to know what time it is in any one part of the world.

“I hereby call on the industry leaders to help sort this out,” Colebourne wrote. “IBM, Oracle, Apple, Google, RedHat I'm looking at you.”

More from The Daily Parker blog is here and here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
Red Hat to ship RHEL 7 release candidate with a taste of container tech
Grab 'near-final' version of next Enterprise Linux next week
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.